Daily Memo: Protests in Hong Kong, Elections in Kazakhstan, Political Crisis in Moldova

All the news worth knowing today.


An eventful weekend in Hong Kong. On Sunday, a throng of protesters took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with a proposed extradition law that would impinge on Hong Kong’s already tenuous position as a haven for anti-Communist Party dissidents, intellectuals and entrepreneurs. Estimating crowd size is always tricky business, but most media outlets reported that over 1 million people joined the largely peaceful march. Regardless of the exact number, video of the demonstration confirms that it was a large outpouring of dissent. After the protest, things turned violent, as hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police outside the Hong Kong legislature and administrative headquarters early Monday morning. The law in question will be up for a second reading on Wednesday, but voting likely won’t take place until mid-July, which means there is plenty of time for the unrest to fester and continue to draw large crowds. Chinese media has mostly ignored the events in Hong Kong, though a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson condemned the interference of “external forces” in Hong Kong’s legislative affairs during a press conference earlier today. China is in a difficult position here, needing to assert control without inflaming passions even further. For now, the latter is more important than the former for Beijing.

An interim president no longer. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev won Kazakhstan’s presidential election on Sunday with 71 percent of the vote. It’s well below his predecessor’s performance in the 2015 election, in which Nursultan Nazarbayev won 98 percent of the vote, but still an enviable margin of victory for any democratically elected leader. It is tempting to call the election a historic watershed – after all, it marks the first Kazakh presidential election in which Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s first and only president in the post-Soviet era, was not the preordained winner. But truth be told, the results matter relatively little here. Nazarbayev made sure that all real political power in Kazakhstan would still reside with him as chairman for life of the country’s Security Council. Observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States – a regional organization that includes many of the former Soviet republics – insisted that the vote was conducted fairly and transparently. But hundreds of people who were arrested for protesting the vote would beg to differ. Kazakhstan is still Kazakhstan, and power still resides where it did before the election.

Political crisis in Moldova. The word “crisis” is often overused – even by us sometimes. But in describing Moldova’s unfolding political impasse, it’s a good fit. To make a long story short: Moldovan elections in February did not produce a clear winner, and Friday was the deadline for incumbent pro-Russian President Igor Dodon to form a coalition government. On Saturday, however, Dodon announced that he had signed an agreement for “temporary cooperation” with the pro-European ACUM alliance. But on Sunday, Moldova’s Constitutional Court ruled the coalition illegal and stripped Dodon of his powers. It appointed as interim president the outgoing prime minister, Pavel Filip, who immediately announced the dissolution of parliament and new elections in September. Rival Moldovan governments are now holding separate meetings and calling each other illegitimate. The Moldovan army released a statement saying it would “stay out of political games,” so for now, it is up to the politicians to figure out their next steps. Perhaps the best barometer of the current situation is that Ukraine has reached out to Moldova to offer assistance in resolving the affair – the crisis-stricken leading the crisis-stricken.

In Italy, another week, another resignation threat. For the second week in a row, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte threatened to resign unless his government agreed on how it would avoid European Union sanctions. The threat, published in an interview in Corriere della Sera earlier today, comes ahead of the prime minister’s meeting later today with his finance minister and leaders from the League and the 5-Star Movement. Conte appears unwilling to confront the European Commission, which he believes will follow through on threats of its own to begin disciplinary procedures for violating previously reached agreements on budget deficits and government spending targets. The League is the party most hostile to this approach, and in essence, Conte is calling the League’s bluff, daring it to go along with his approach to the EU on this issue or send the country to new national elections so Conte or someone else can have a stronger mandate.

Honorable Mentions

  • Russia’s energy minister said oil prices could fall to $30 a barrel in the second half of 2019 because of overproduction.
  • Russia has deployed a new armor regiment to the Smolensk region.
  • Egypt’s Ministry of Finance strongly denied that fuel prices will be hiked in the near future.
  • Over 100 people are dead in Sudan after a general strike was declared on Sunday as the Sudanese military cracks down on political protests.
  • Thousands protested in Haiti over the weekend, calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moise.
  • An Azerbaijani soldier was reportedly killed by Armenian fire in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region over the weekend.
  • Qatar’s foreign minister insisted that Iran and the U.S. start a dialogue to find a workable compromise to their ongoing dispute – and said that Qatar would be willing to help.